As I go back through commentaries I have written over the years, strands emerge. One of these themes was my experiences with kids. I was lucky to be able to work with children of all ages as a teacher and a psychologist. For a short time I was a high school English teacher, counselor and then a psychologist. I've tried doing some different things, working with adult sexual abuse perpetrators and mentally ill folks, but I always came back to kids. That doesn’t mean I don’t like adults, I am one after all, but my caseload as a psychologist covered the age spectrum. Kids were dominant.
Many of the children I saw were damaged -- and they knew it. One issue they all seemed to struggle with was trust. “Will I be safe with you?” Most of us take for granted that we will be safe. Many of the young people I saw did not have that luxury.
Little kids generally are not verbal in the same way adults are. They play their worlds before us. Plastic toy figures fight constantly, there are explosions and dismemberments and hiding behind wooden block battlements. On numerous occasions I had to wait patiently for a child to come out from under my desk.
Others test: language used by a drill sergeant, attempts at disassembling an air conditioner, or throwing toys around a room, are all meant to ask the same question, “Am I safe here? If I do this thing, what will you do to me?”
Most of the children I saw were open to talking with an interested adult. I was amazed at what a little attentive listening produced. Nothing magical ever happened in my therapy sessions. All that was required was taking their life experience and mirroring and reflecting those in a way that gave them a chance to think, feel and behave in a way that made life happier and more in control.
Children live what they learn. If they’ve learned that anger is met with disapproval or worse, a punch in the face, they eventually learn that speaking doesn’t pay off, acting out gets results. This usually showed up in school or the community as aggressive behavior or withdrawal and sadness.
For others, traumatized like someone who lives in a war zone, uncontrolled thoughts, smells and sounds create a living hell in the present from memories. I’ve seen thumping sounds of expanding heat pipes startle a child to flight from my office.
Even with this there are rewards for working with children. Star Wars figures end up having dinner with each other or sing rap songs, the Play Doh instead of being pounded flat in frustration, becomes a pizza and is served to a grateful man.
More of Doug’s writings can be seen at http://www.douglewandowski.com.